IDEO Seminars

Featured

We currently offer four seminars:

  1. A public seminar, devoted to the Arab-Muslim culture. About two sessions monthly, either in Arabic, or French or English. Free of charge and open to all. Subscribe here to receive the invitations. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions.
  2. A seminar in Arabic of introduction to the Arabic philosophy, six sessions organised by Aziz Hilal. Click here to see the details.
  3. A joint seminar al-Azhar-IDEO in Islamic Studies for the French-speaking students at al-Azhar University. Click here to read the reports of the previous sessions. This seminar is organized as part of the cooperation between us and al-Azhar University.
  4. The Massignon Seminar, a research seminar for the members of the Institute.
  5. International conferences, in Cairo or elsewhere, whose proceedings are published in MIDEO. Click here to read the reports of these conferences.

The legacy of al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) in the philosophical thinking in al-Andalus

Aziz Hilal

Doctor of Arabic Philosophy

icon-calendar October 3, 2018

Muḥammad ʿĀbid al-Ǧābirī (d. 2010) supported the idea of an epistemological break between the philosophical thought of the Arab East and Arab West. According to him, thinking in the East devolved, especially with Avicenna (d. 428/1037), into Gnosticism and irrationalism. Whereas thinking in the West saw the culmination of the rationalist tradition in Islam, particularly with Ibn Bāǧǧa (d. 533/1139) and Averroes (d. 595/1198). This simplistic framework overlooks the influence that al-Fārābī (d. 339/950) had in Andalusia. It is clearly visible in the political philosophy of Ibn Bāǧǧā, particularly in his treatise Tadbīr al-mutawaḥḥid, in Averroes’ commentary on Plato’s Republic, or in the work Ḥayy b. Yaqzān by Ibn Ṭufayl (d. 581/1185). Although Ibn Ṭufayl declares himself as an Avicennian, and does not hesitate to criticize (unfairly) al-Fārābī, it can be said that there is a common purpose and structure between Ḥayy b. Yaqzān and the thought of al-Fārābī. Ibn Ṭufayl is so indebted to the political philosophy of the “Second Master” (aka al-Fārābī) that it is hard to understand why he treats him in such a passing way in his introduction to Ḥayy b. Yaqzān.

What complicated al-Fārābī’s reception in Andalusia was that he still believed, like all in the East, that Aristotle wrote the treatise known as Aristotle’s Theology, when in fact it is a more or less faithful translation of part of PlotinusEnneads. Thus, he desperately attempts to reconcile this Neo-Platonic text with what he knows about Aristotle. It will be Averroes who definitively unmasks the confusion. For example, unlike al-Fārābī, Ibn Bāǧǧā and Averroes conceive the agent intellect as something immanent to man. According to the two authors, the agent intellect is no longer this transcendent and completely separate intellect, which fit perfectly with the Fārābian theory of emanation inherited from Neo-Platonism.

The theological principles of interreligious dialogue

Jean-Marc Aveline

Auxiliary Bishop of Marseille

President of the Council for Interreligious Relations at the Bishop’s Conference of France

icon-calendar September 12, 2018

Listen to the lecture (in French):

Interreligious dialogue covers two very different realities: it is both what public authorities would like religions to do for greater social peace, as well as the attitude of believers, in the name of their faith, towards believers of other religions. Reducing dialogue to the first risks anaesthetizing the critical and prophetic role religions have towards these same public authorities and, more fundamentally, exposes religions to the risk of abandoning this role and relying solely on public authorities to organize dialogue between them.

The Christian attitudes towards believers of other religions have been profoundly shaped by their relationship with Judaism. Resisting any latent Marcionist temptation to “purify” Christianity from its Jewish roots, the Catholic Church recognizes that its own identity owes due reference to the otherness of Judaism. This is clearly stated in the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration Nostra ætate (1965).

In addition, Paul VI, in his encyclical Ecclesiam suam (1964), proposed a renewed conception of revelation as a “dialogue of salvation” (colloquium salutis) between God and humanity.   The declaration Nostra ætate therefore encourages Catholics to seek all that is true and holy in other religions, in a sincere and respectful dialogue with other believers.

Bishop Aveline ended his lecture by presenting two major theological issues for those who have accepted to involve themselves in this demanding spiritual and intellectual adventure. The first is to strengthen, with the help Eastern Christian theology, our theology of the Holy Spirit, of which John Paul II said, in his encyclical Redemptoris missio (1990), acted not only in the hearts of individuals but also in societies, cultures, and religions. The second issue is that of understanding the Church’s mission as collaboration in the work of the Holy Spirit, who pursues this “dialogue of salvation,” which is revelation. The Church must therefore understand itself not as an NGO or a company working toward its own growth, but rather as being at the service of the relationship between God and the world.

The issue of the existence of God in Ibn Taymiyya

Adrien Candiard

Member of the IDEO and PhD student in Islamic studies

icon-calendar May 22, 2018

For Heidegger (1889‒1976), if metaphysics failed in its project, it is because it identified the “Being” with God, transforming into a sterile onto-theology. This description undoubtedly applies to Avicenna (d. 428/1037), for whom the proof of God’s existence finds itself in the necessity that there be an end to the chain of causalities. God is the necessary Being who has no cause other than himself.

This proof of the existence of God is repugnant to Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328), not only because it is rooted in logical human tools, incapable by definition of reaching the divine being, but also because it is valid only inside the world of logic, without saying anything about the actual existence of God.

Among all of Ibn Taymiyya’s philosophical refutations, his refutation of al-Siǧistānī (d. after 361/971) in Darʾ al-taʿāruḍ bayna al-ʿaql wa-l-naql is particularly interesting. In his Kitāb al-maqālīd al-malakūtiyya, al-Siǧistānī criticizes the Avicennian definition of the existence of God as the ‘necessary being’ (wāǧib al-wuǧūd) because it makes God a composite being, as he would share the fact of “being” with his creatures, yet would have his own kind of being, the “necessary being.” Al-Siǧistānī then explains that the “being” of God has nothing to do with the “being” of creatures. Ibn Taymiyya criticizes this position, which ultimately amounts to saying that God does not exist, because we cannot say of him that he is nor that he isn’t, which is contradictory according to the laws of logic itself.

For Ibn Taymiyya, this contradiction is based on an error shared by all philosophers, namely that they believe that existence, which is only a concept, has real existence.  “Existence,” like all universals, does not exist outside our mind. It is meaningless to seek to demonstrate God by a conceptual way that can only reach concepts without real existence; we must find a direct way. However, precisely, man knows that God exists because of an innate natural faculty, the fiṭra. There is no need to mediate concepts to know that God exists. In addition, if someone refuses to recognize that God exists, it is simply because his fiṭra is sick.

The problem with such a solution (a nominalist one for sure) is that it cannot be refuted. Anyone who questions Ibn Taymiyya’s thinking would only prove that his fiṭra is deficient.

Spiritual progress and intellectual progress

Seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

icon-calendar May 7, 2018

On May 7th, the latest session of our joint seminar between Al-Azhar and IDEO took place at the Faculty of Languages and Translations at Al-Azhar University. The chosen topic was “Faith and Reason”, based on a commentary by the famous Egyptian preacher Muḥammad al-Ghazālī (1917‒1996) in his book The Pillars of Faith, Between Reason and Heart (Rakāʾiz al-īmān, bayn al-ʿaql wa-l-qalb, 1974). The chapter studied was entitled “The gap between spiritual progress and intellectual progress”.

In this chapter, the author first calls for a piety that is not a detriment to the human person and his development. He then describes the world as lost in a sterile materialism and a wandering rationalism, cut off from faith in God.  He does this before making the observation that neither Judaism, Christianity, nor Islam today provide convincing answers to man’s spiritual equilibrium. The author concludes with a call to put into practice a true Islam, which orders good and forbids evil.

The three speakers presented various aspects of the text. Jean Druel, O.P studied the literary construction of the text, Mrs. Héba Mahrous showed how the author’s vision fits into a more general Muslim framework, and Mr. Ahmad al-Shamli placed this chapter within the framework of the work as a whole.

The discussion that followed opened the following questions: is the text, with a clear apologetic scope, the best approach for a philosophical and theological questioning?   How can one discuss the generalizations that characterize this literary genre of preaching? How does one evaluate the use of the human sciences in this text? The mere fact that the author references non-Muslim authors (i.e. ToynbeeCarrel) is proof of openness in itself. However, in the scheme of the text, the human sciences also serve as an argument to the idea that man has a very limited knowledge of himself and that one must trust that God is better equipped to say who man is and what he needs. Finally, it seems that the author simply associates “reason” with “Islam”, which automatically removes the tension with faith, without further discussion. Yet, a consequence of this equating reason and Islam is that other religions are then necessarily irrational as they are not Islam.

Finally, the author’s conclusion on the need “to order The Good and to prohibit The Evil” (al-amr bi-l-maʿrūf wa-l-nahy ʿan al-munkar) is extremely ambiguous because al-Ghazālī makes no effort to insist on the difficulty of observing right from wrong in particular situations.

From the Political to the Historiographical Use of Poetry

Noëmie Lucas

PhD candidate, Paris Panthéon-Sorbonne University

icon-calendar April 30, 2018

In his work Ansāb al-ašrāf, al-Balāḏurī (d. 279/892?) relates an episode of the construction of the canal “al-Mubārak” by Ḫālid b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Qasrī (d. 126/743), the governor of Iraq at the time. He was praised by the poet al-Farazdaq (d. 110/728?) then mocked by him, as a way to get revenge on Ḫālid who did not reward him for his initial praise. Al-Farazdaq was imprisoned for this insult, then finally released by the grace of the Caliph Hišam b ʿAbd al-Malik (r. 724-743), after which he wrote poetic verses of praise about him.

The text of al-Balāḏurī integrates these famous verses into its historical narrative in prose, to the extent that one may wonder if the narrative prose is not, in reality, the historical contextualisation of these verses, even though researchers tend to consider them as a simple illustrations of historical prose.

This impression is reinforced, for example, by the different historical contextualization that Abū al-Faraǧ al-Aṣfahānī (d. after 362/972) gives of the same verses in his Kitāb al-aġānī.

However, the reality is probably in between these two extreme points of view, one that would make poetry a simple illustration of historical narrative and the other that would make historical narrative a commentary on the poetry cited. Poetry plays a major role in pre-Islamic culture as it creates and destroys reputations, records events, builds history, relies on the authority of feared and respected characters, has an aesthetic role… In a word, it is one with the text and it is by holding the two together, verse and prose, that one must read and interpret these ancient historical sources.

The Interaction Between Twelver Shiites and Christians: History, Theology, Literature

icon-calendar April 11‒13, 2018

The IDEO, in partnership with ISTR in Paris (Institute of Science and Theology of Religions) and GRIEM (Interdisciplinary Research Group on Missionary Writings), organized a conference sponsored by the associations “Friends of IDEO” and the “Œuvre d’Orient” from April 11-13th, 2018 on the interaction between Twelver Shiites and Christians. Several internationally renowned specialists participated, including Professors Rudi Mathee and Francis Richard. A delegation of researchers from Iraq and the al-Khoei Institute also participated.

Focusing on interactions, this conference aimed to explore travel accounts, missionary writings, theological texts, embassy reports, and manuscripts in order examine the nature of how one group viewed the other, the types of exchanges that were made, and the relations between these groups. The conference also sought to show the evolution of identity, as each group underwent transformations due to these interactions within the pluralistic political contexts of their times.

We demonstrated that the existence of these exchanges was made possible by a theological necessity on the part the Shiites, as well as a theological and spiritual proximity related to the theology of redemption and the Shiite fascination of the God of love.  Economic arguments were also put forth, as the absence of subsidies coming from Europe forced missionary communities into economic exchanges in the world in which they lived, sometimes at the expense of violating their own rules. Political issues were also discussed, such as the rivalry between the Ottomans, the Mughals, and the Safavids, which made alliances with Christians necessary. These alliances gave rise to expressions of friendship and esteem for the other. Curiosity and empathy were also noted, and we were able to speak of “Christianophilia” on the part of the Shiites.

However, far from wishing to idealize the past, history also records the partial and sometimes negative perceptions of the other. Historically, ulamas were able to demand that Christians be driven away or demand their conversion. Often mentioned are the tragic situation of the Armenians and the domination of controversies. Whether real or fictional, these controversies circulated beyond the empire, and has thus carried trans-historical argumentation against the other. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, controversies were couched in a more aggressive, political argumentation, as they were often created by the State, thus showing the politicization of Christian-Shiite relations in this time.

There was also a question of Christian missionary activities, the nature of which varies according to the order, such as the Capuchins, Carmelites, or Jesuits. Faced with the lack Muslim conversions, missionaries questioned their formation, the need to develop new argumentations, the possible impact of converts as the main agents in the mission, which populations were to be targeted as a priority, the possible support of Muslim spiritual circles, and the Persian poetic heritage…

Cultural, spiritual, or religious interactions are visible at the level of the invocation of saints, iconography, and the presentation of the gospels with a Christian basmala at the beginning of each gospel…

Finally, did these exchanges, interactions lead to a better understanding of the other? Certainly. However, the missionary reports, travel accounts, and theological works often reveal partial knowledge, notwithstanding the desire to make the other more well known.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in the MIDEO 35 (2020).

The epistemology of Ibn Taymiyya

Seminar al-Azhar University and the IDEO

icon-calendar March 22, 2018

For this new session of our joint seminar between Al-Azhar and IDEO, we chose to comment on the same text, in order to highlight the processes of interpretation we use and to exchange our approaches. We chose an extract from a text by Ibn Taymiyya, which was commented on by three researchers: Adrien Candiard, OP, IDEO member, Mrs. Héba El-Zéftaoui, Assistant Professor, Mr. Ziyad Farrouh, University lecturer.

Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1328) is an extremely prolific writer who spent his life writing treatises and fatwās, most of which violently attack the scholars of his time, especially the Shiites, the Christians, and the Sufis of the school of Ibn ʿArabī (m. 638/1240). Ibn Taymiyya, a man of keen intelligence, criticizes the Muslim tradition for not having achieved any definitive result in achieving knowledge of God, but rather engage in scholastic conflicts and fantasies about God.

In the long introductory fatwā to his book Darʾ taʿāruḍ al-ʿaql wa-l-naql, Ibn Taymiyya offers a justification for the human possibility of being able to speak about God, as well as a rational method so as to not going astray. He, at the same time, differs from the Ašʿarites, represented by Faḫr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1209), who always defer reason (ʿaql), and the Ḥanbalites, of which he himself was a disciple and who are represented, for example, by Ibn Qudāma (d. 620/1223), who always defer to tradition (naql). He criticizes the idea that one has to choose between the two. Human reason and revealed tradition are not in opposition. Rather, they must be able to express the same truth about God.

The epistemological way explored by Ibn Taymiyya is based on the principle that the only sure and true thing is God himself, that He reveals His word in a rational way which is accessible to human intelligence. Moreover, since God is transcendent, none of our human methods of logical analysis apply to him, and rather than using syllogism (qiyās šumūl) or analogy (qiyās tamṯīl), Ibn Taymiyya describes the method he finds at work in the Qurʾān and the hadiths: the “Eminence way” (qiyās awlā), according to which we can attribute to God all perfections. In doing so, it goes beyond the debate over divine attributes, between unicity (the attributes of God are analogous to human attributes) and equivocity (divine attributes have no relation to human attributes).

More fundamentally, Ibn Taymiyya rejects any reasoning that would be a pure logical game of language. He finds it more certain to start from the revealed given (i.e. the Qurʾān and Ḥadīṯ), and then build logical reasoning. In other words, he is nominalist: he refuses to confuse mental realities and reality itself, and criticizes theologians, rationalists, or traditionalists who believe that the fruit of their rationalization express some reality about God. Essentially, we can say that Ibn Taymiyya built analogies based on the revealed text and not on the “eternal” truths elaborated by the human mind.

The three presentations emphasized different points, historical or theological. The discussion demonstrated that Ašʿarism, which is the official school of theology followed by al-Azhar, has developed, and that the attacks of Ibn Taymiyya in the fourteenth century are not always relevant today. However, all theological schools are taught at the university in the theological faculties, and not just Ašʿarism.

The question with which we closed our discussions was that of the place of faith between reason and tradition. This will be the topic of our next meeting at the end of April.

The emergence of Ḥadīṯ as the authority of knowledge between the 4ᵗʰ/10ᵗʰ and the 8ᵗʰ/14ᵗʰ centuries

icon-calendar January 11‒13, 2018

On January 11, 12 and 13, the Dominican Institute has organised in partnership with the French Institute an international conference dedicated to Ḥadīṯ. Our two guest speakers were Dr. Aisha Geissinger (Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada) and Prof. Walid Saleh (Toronto University, Canada). We hosted 7 lectures in Arabic the first day, 5 lectures in English the second day, and two workshops the third day, one in Arabic and one in English. Here are the main issues discussed during the workshops and the concluding session:

1- Questions of methodology: how to study Ḥadīṯ today? As a literary corpus, as a source of law, as an object of piety binding its reader to the person of the Prophet, as a witness to a given historical context…

2- The question of the relevance of the use of contemporary human sciences, and thus of dealing with a sacred corpus in a profane manner (Quran, Ḥadīṯ).

3- The question of historical criticism: legitimate or not, relying on canonical corpus or composing new ones, with which tools… for what purpose? Evaluation of the isnād and/or the matn?

4- The question of blind spots in the history of Ḥadīṯ: voices that are not expressed, women, minorities,… How can we write a history that takes into account what is not documented, the point of view of those who are dominated or silenced?

5- The question of “reason” (ʿaql), which lacks, in Arabic, a working definition, allowing everyone to claim it for themselves, or to refuse it to others. It seems that researchers in reality often confuse “reason” (ʿaql) as capacity and “rationalities” (ʿaqlāniyyyāt) as its implementations.

6- The presence of several persons from Muslim minorities during the colloquium (one Omani Ibadi, two Saudis Ismailis, two Iraqi Shiites) also opened the debate on the different readings of Ḥadīṯ.

7- The question of the “scientific miracle” (cf. Bucaille), which always finds followers, including in the field of Ḥadīṯ.

The concluding session

During the concluding session, Walid and Aisha emphasized one or another of these points. However, the issue of the emergence of Ḥadīt as a source of authority was not addressed as such. If Ruggero Sanseverino has dealt with the epistemological question of its authority, to link it spiritually (and not mechanically) to the person of the Prophet, the other interventions have approached the question of the authority of Ḥadīṯ in a given context, in a given science, in a given author. But none of them studied the issue over a long period of time, and neither the workshops nor the concluding session tried to do so. One of most exciting aspects of the conference was probably the fact that it connected scholars from the West with scholars from Egypt, which is probably why the methodological issues took such an importance during the workshops.

The proceedings of this conference will be published in MIDEO 34 (2019).

No one will be saved if all are not saved

Guillaume de Vaulx

Doctor of Philosophy and IDEO member

icon-calendar December 12, 2017

It is impossible to hold these three statements at the same time: 1) “God wants all people to be saved”, 2) “God shows people a path of salvation”, and 3) “Anyone who does not follow this path cannot be saved”. Either God wants the salvation for all, in which case He cannot impose only one path of salvation; or He imposes a particular path, in which case He risks that some will not follow it. And in any case, whatever the revealed path, it is only given to a given group, at a given time, condemning those who lived prior to or far from the place of this revelation.

The author of Rasāʾil Iḫwān al-ṣafā, whom Guillaume de Vaulx believes to have discovered to be Aḥmad al-Ṭayyib al-Saraḫrsī (d. 286/899), offers an original solution within a Muslim context. For him, the world is built on complementary relationships: no one person can have all skills, per se. Rather, together, we have all skills. This principle of complementarity is valid not only in everyday life, but also for eternal salvation. individually, we cannot achieve salvation, but together, each according to his religion and beliefs, we are able to achieve salvation for all, because salvation is beyond what any of us can achieve alone.